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Anger, frustration, marginalization, helplessness and alienation

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Doha, 8 Nov 2001 - As Ministers, delegates, media and observers began assembling here for the 4th WTO Ministerial Conference, they are doing so with anger at the open and blatant manipulation to force on them the start of a new round of negotiations with an agenda to increase the obligations of developing countries to establish a neo-mercantanlist/neoliberal order for transnational corporate globalization.

And anger is mixed with a feeling among government delegations of helplessness, frustration, marginalization and alienation.

The kind of chaos, for delegates, media and others gathering for the meeting that has become the hallmark of the WTO and its ministerial conferences, is adding to the problems. At the conference centre/media centre, a journalist colleague from Geneva told us:

(a)  we need to go to some other place, an Al-Thana club to get our badges, not the hotel address of the host committee, and (b) even poor Keith Rockwell (the WTO spokesman, normally cool under media badgering), is angry - so don’t go in search of him for help.

A Qatar News agency colleague whom we approached, then took some sympathy, walked with us about half a kilometre in the hot sun (he had on his Arab protective clothes and was geared to the heat) to go to a car park to find a vehicle to take us to the club for badges, where we discovered delegates fared no better.

Neither the host committee nor the WTO conference experts had provided people with the necessary normal information for any conference.

In Qatar, the power system needs British three-prong plugs, and the plugs to connect the laptops etc, when working in botels,to telephones need French ones (available at conference centre). We hope to discover before long the American technology and expertise somewhere.

In what is now standard practice for WTO conferences, the hosts have officially enabled everyone (forced, some point out) to hike the prices by at least 20% - prices of hotels and other services, prices of the ‘SIM’ cards for connecting to the local Qatar network (which is so crowded even before everyone has got in to do business), and you name it and you have it.

You can’t blame the Qataris. The Swiss benefit from being host country for the WTO headquarters, but don’t want the costs and trouble of a ministerial conference. The secretariat too does not want the conference at headquarters, where they and their methods will be scrutinised by people who know or can get to know things too much, and prefer to go elsewhere every two years, with conferences and then holidays in the region. This time though, the security threats about which the Americans and the Europeans have been talking about has made everyone edgy.

As for hiking up the prices, even the mighty, rich Uncle Sam, not being able to afford and pay the costs of being the host for the 3rd Ministerial, just handed over the responsibility to its corporate leaders, a team led by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the Boeing CEO, with Bill Clinton helping the process by encouraging street demonstrators.

At Qatar, it has all been centralised through the host committee - with no one really knowing where to go for what and how much you would be asked to pay. Even the Qatar Airways special flights from Geneva for delegates, and others who were offered last minute seats at hiked up prices - almost like bargaining up in the souk, where usually you bargain and the shop-keeper brings the prices down. Here it was the other way, up and up.

Welcome to the new market order.

The western corporate financial media have already begun praising Harbinson and Moore for their achievements (in producing texts without alternative formulations, ready for a Soviet-style Parliamentary approval, by the ministers - ‘a ministerial conference run by ministers,’ said Mr. Moore at his press conference in Geneva, but significantly did not add the ‘for ministers’ ). The Financial Times, in an editorial last week, has said the Doha meeting and its likely success for the launch of a round, owes a lot to Mr. Bin Laden.

May be, they will still call it a Bin Laden Round for the economic talibanisation of the WTO trading system.

And considering the way Chairman Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong China and WTO Director-General Mike Moore have drawn up and presented the two draft declarations and other documents, and subjecting the ministers to another manipulative secretive process, secretive even for the general membership, to force the adoption and launch of a round of new negotiations, it will bring the kind of peace in the world, like the ones for which Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded.

Will a Round in fact be launched here?

Mr. Pascal Lamy, who, with Mr. Robert Zoellick, is choreographing this play, still talks of the launch in terms of 80%, with a 20% gap yet to be filled.

Maybe this is because Lamy and Mike Moore were unable on Monday and Tuesday, to get the ACP ministers in Brussels to endorse the Round and the new issues, and they are afraid that the ghost of Seattle, where the conference failed, not because of street protests or even the US-EC differences, but because the ‘herd’ refused to go along to the slaughter house, have not been exorcised by the priests of the market god. At Seattle, the Africans, Caribbeans and others just said no to the ‘green room’ process and anything that will come out of it. May they will still do so.

Every effort is being made here to even make it difficult for anyone ‘not in’ to know where the ‘ins’ are taking place, with the hosts and their ‘organizing’ easily faulted. One can always fall back on ‘security’ consideration in not saying who is staying where and meeting whom.

However, if a new round is at all launched here, ushering in the Keynesian long term peace, prosperity, end to poverty etc because of the new billions of dollars from the new trade round and benefits of the WTO variety of free trade, those responsible ought to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, with three of them sharing the credit - Harbinson, Moore and Bin Laden. They can share it ala some awardees for bringing in peace in Vietnam, Middle East etc.

SUNS will claim no copyright for circulating the idea floating here, not even for citation. Any civil society group or government can take up the idea, and launch a signature campaign for this.

The covering notes to the documents, dated 5 November (forwarded on their own ‘self-proclaimed authority’ to the Ministerial Conference) by GC Chairman Stuart Harbinson and WTO Director-General Mike Moore to the Chairman of the Doha conference, Mr. Yousef Hussain Kamal (Minister of Finance, Economy and Commerce of the Emirate of Qatar).-, was ‘issued’ sometime late that evening in Geneva to the documents.

Delegates, even from Europe, arriving here for the Conference, could not get hold of the covering notes. In the normally secretive and manipulative WTO, these documents have to be obtained by media from delegations - officially, the media office can’t provide them.

For once, the SUNS was happy to help delegations, not with analysis and explanations, but with copies which they thankfully photocopied and returned, with some in anger pointing to the obvious ‘terminological inexactitudes’, to use a Winston Churchill phrase in the UK House of Commons, when pulled up for using unparliamentary language for the opposite of truth.

Only delegates who were present at the meetings in Geneva can aver to this. All meetings are in private, even formal ones, and media have no direct access; and, by the time reports and minutes are drawn up by the hard-worked WTO secretariat, and made available to members, and after a time made public, Doha will be past history.

In the 18th and 19th century Britain, an Ambassador (and by generic extension the profession of diplomacy) was defined as one who lies abroad for the benefit of his country.

The covering note to the Doha ‘documents’, the two draft declarations and the draft decision on implementation have at least two elements to prove their ‘diplomacy’, as defined in 19th century Britain.

Paragraph two of the cover note for the declaration as a whole will perhaps merit this appellation, but the last sentence of that paragraph, at least three ambassadors of very geographically separated countries, and with differing views on launching or not launching a round, confirmed, has no relation to the truth.

This is what the paragraph says

“On the basis of consultations held from the beginning of the process, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of Members did not wish to repeat the method of preparation followed prior to the Seattle Ministerial Conference. The latter was a process driven by formal proposals which resulted in an unwieldy compendium which could not be refined. Instead, Members clearly preferred a method whereby the Chairman and the Director-General WOULD PRODUCE ON THE BASIS OF CONSULTATIONS THEIR BEST APPROXIMATION OF A COMPROMISE SOLUTION among the differing positions of the membership.” (emphasis added)

Several delegates say there was no informal or formal meeting of the membership, where such a proposition was even put forward by the chair as a pre-prepared concluding remark - the style of Mr. Harbinson and his consultation process all through the year - in the rules-based, member-driven organization and system, as Mr. Moore has been repeatedly boasting.

There never was any agreement or mandate, implicit or explicit, to Harbinson and Moore to present “their best approximation of a compromise solution among the differing positions of the membership.”

While after Seattle, everyone said they did not want a repeat of Seattle, it was not always clear what they meant - street demonstrations, civil society protests, green room processes of decision-making - or exactly what did they not want?.

The GC Chair for 2000, Chairman Bryn of Norway, who did perhaps the most to take seriously the talk of confidence building measures, did not obviously think so.  Now, say Harbinson and Moore, the members clearly did not want the repeat of Seattle, with the general membership putting forward proposals on what they want.

Though formally, and on record, at the last General Council that began on 31 October, a number of key developing country delegations spoke detailing their differences with particular paragraphs, and later presenting them in formal letters to the WTO, asking Harbinson to present their views to the Ministers, as an integral part of his drafts.

At the Group of 77 High Level Advisory Group meeting on trade (of which this writer was a member), this writer was told that diplomats could not say no, and only ‘yes, but...’ Well, the WTO is no place for diplomacy. For even if you say ‘no’ in private, they will chalk you up into a ‘maybe’ and then say the consultations showed no one was opposed.

Harbinson and Moore have thumbed their noses, claimed an inherent authority, which they did not produce or cite at the General Council, but announced they had the authority to present the texts on their own responsibility to the Doha meeting of Ministers. And in the covering note, they have added this terminological inexactitude.

In the last sentence of their second para, cited above, say Harbinson and Moore, “Instead, Members CLEARLY PREFERRED a method whereby the Chairman and the Director-General WOULD PRODUCE on the basis of consultations, their best approximation of a COMPROMISE SOLUTION among the differing positions of the membership.” (Emphasis added).

Did members clearly prefer the Harbinson-Moore consultation method? No one knows what took place in the ‘confessionals’, since even at the informal meetings (delegates said), Harbinson seemed to listen to views, and then read out his own prepared conclusions.

But in almost every informal meeting process, there have been repeated protests at the increasing non-transparency of the process - and several delegations sent their prepared texts to the media and these have been published.

And, according to several of the delegations, there never was an informal or formal meeting where Harbinson and Moore were asked or authorized to produce a “COMPROMISE SOLUTION”. No such proposition would appear to have figured even at the limited consultation meetings of invited ministers held at the Mexico and Singapore “flying green rooms”.

In para seven of the covering letter about the Geneva process having formally concluded, Harbinson and Moore say, “At that meeting, while FEW (emphasis added) Members expressed full satisfaction with this draft text of the Ministers, many felt that it represented a sound basis for decision by Ministers at Doha.”

Now, ‘few’ in English language, means at least more than one.

And Mr. Harbinson and Mr. Moore are English speaking and writing, and have taken at least four days to draft and redraft and choose their words whose ordinary meanings do not correspond to facts and truth.

Members who were at the formal meetings, and who followed very closely the statements, point out that NO, repeat NO, delegate expressed ‘full satisfaction’. Even the US and EC, or even any of their followers, did not do so, each pointing to one or another part where they were not satisfied.

Delegations, who thought at the General Council that it would be ‘politically difficult’ for officials to challenge the chair presenting the document, or insist on lack of consensus and demand a vote, thus breaking once and for all this manufactured consensus (even if they lose this time, everything in the future will be decided by a vote), will now regret it. And those who say now at Doha that their governments cannot challenge the procedures and the rule-less way it is being run, but that their minister would have to remove some issues for negotiations, will in time regret it too. By then though they would have lost their public.

In a column in the IHT this week, Mr. William Pfaff wrote about the war on terrorism becoming the war on Afghanistan, and due to the wrong ways of tackling it, terrorism will flourish. Spy novelist Le Carre in this week’s US weekly from Washington, The Nation, has written a political column saying that every bomb falling on Afghanistan, is merely spawning a suicide bomber somewhere.

If the kind of negotiations that Zoellick and Lamy want, and on the back of or as part of the global war on terrorism, are launched here, it will create some of the very things that Pfaff and Le Carre are warning - the existing system of global injustice and inequity will be made worse, and that will sow seeds for terrorism.

To this writer and his generation or those before, born in colonial India and striving for independence under Gandhi, non-violent resistance to injustice was the only feasible strategic policy, if not, an article of faith. So it is never possible to condone terrorism and violence, more so against the innocent.  However, even Gandhi said about the Polish resistance to Hitler, and of the Indian people in 1942 who, when Gandhi and others were arrested in the middle of the night and incarcerated without anyone knowing where, did use violence and non-violence, and Gandhi responded to the British Government that their acts of violence were almost non-violent in the face of the leonine violence unleashed by the Government.

The new round, and the rules to be negotiated, added on to the injustice, will create much social and other unrest everywhere, and this will be the legacy of peace that those who brought in the texts for declarations and want to launch it here will leave behind.

The ancient Greeks had the saying ‘Whom the Gods want to destroy they first drive them mad.” In Afghanistan, they have the saying, whom the gods want to destroy they send them to Afghanistan. The Hindus (in the Gita) spoke of greed, leading to confusion, and confusion leading to conflict and destruction.

Doha, if Moore, Harbinson (and Lamy and Zoellick) have their way, will be following a path to conflict, unheeding the wisdom of the Greeks, Afghans and Hindus.

Long Live the WTO system. – SUNS5006

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